Quiet…an endangered species

I don’t eat margarine anymore because somewhere along the way chemists (who invented the stuff in the first place) discovered that the hydrogenated oils in it are horrible for your body.  I try to ride my bike to work more than my car because we’ve also learned that the big behemoth of a convenience that we call an automobile contributes to a form of atrophy.  First the car, then the elevator–who needs legs?  Turns out my pump called a heart needs legs, and if I don’t use them the whole ecology of my body suffers.

Modernity isn’t just philosophical–it’s chemical.  It’s mechanical.  And though the industrial revolution brought us lots of great stuff, wisdom demands that we discriminate, celebrating the good, but swimming upstream against mindsets and machines that have become destructively normal.  Recently, I’ve become mindful that modernity has stolen one of God’s great gifts from us, and that is the gift of silence.

Go to a baseball game and you’ll find that the time between innings isn’t a time for chatting anymore because there’s always some entertainment.  I thought baseball was supposed be the entertainment (“Really?  Baseball entertainment?  Like watching pain dry,” is what someone said to me recently), and that space between innings, where the pitcher and catcher become friends again was a time for talking with your friends.

Increasingly, it seems that quiet restaurants are becoming a rare breed, the albino deer of the food industry.  Car? Radio, with a thousand Sirius channels so you can, as they say, “Make the most of your ride.”  My wife was at a fundraising event recently and when she came home, said she was struck by how the constant noise made conversation difficult.  Skiers with headphones, runners with headphones and ear-pieces for their cell phones.

The gift of ready sound is like the gift of the auto.  There are lots of benefits; and there’s a downside.

The downside has to do with how we’re made for the rhythm of sound and silence in our lives, just as we’re made for the rhythms of light and dark, work and rest, food and fasting (if even just from snacking), even celebration and mourning.  Take any one of these out of the equation and you’ll eventually have the symptoms that come from imbalance.  The background noise of my life, such as radio DJ’s or restaurant music, is stealing time for connection and contemplation.

I don’t mean to rant, because the gifts of music and communication with people are gifts indeed.  I’m only pointing out the danger of “too much of a good thing.”   I need to beware of that and take steps.  Maybe you should too:

1. Leave the media off in the morning, or late evening, whichever is your reflective time.

2. If you’re going to eat out, look for a place where you don’t have to shout to be heard.

3. Fill the space with silent affirmations of your identity in Christ, or simple prayers, or expressions of honest gratitude or concern.

4. Get up early and have coffee with God.  Learn to enjoy the silence.

That’s all for now… I’m off to the mountains for a few hours with two good friends:  1) my touring skis;  2) silence.

How do you build silence into your life?  What benefits do you find from it?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    As I read this post my son started playing the drums in our small house. There’s such a tension between silence and community.

  • Jon Foutz

    Even though I’m a single student without roommates that doesn’t currently work, I still battle to have times of silence. I admit that there are times when it’s silent all around me and my thoughts are loud, but I think that that probably happens to everyone.
    On Sundays, I try not to do homework and I usually turn off my cell phone, which helps.
    During the week, though, I find it really difficult to be silent. I’d appreciate any further suggestions.

  • http://www.imperfectpeople.net Katie @ Imperfect People

    I think these are great ideas! We try to limit our screen time and not have our kids in 101 activites too. SIMPLCITY!!!

  • J. Boyd

    Amen!!!